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January 20, 2010

Of all the dangerous critters in North America, Grizzly Bears are probably at the top of the food chain. I imagine them to be some weird combo of bear, shark and a Cadillac Escalade SUV. Ursus Arctus Horribilis: aptly named, eh?
Grizzly Bears have mystique. Unlike Polar Bears, they’re not just huge; they’re burly. Unlike the Escalade, they are brown (Escalade’s don’t come in brown) and furry. They can rake you with claws like Bowie knives; they can crush your head with their teeth and jaws; and they can outrun OJ Simpson – and they’re undoubtedly smarter.
Grizzlies have rarely ever been found in Manitoba. Black bears and Polar bears are here in abundance. I’ve seen them both in the wild in this province.
The only Grizzly I ever saw here was Bart the Bear. But as I found out, Bart wasn’t a bear; he was an actor. He was a movie star. Bart came to Manitoba around 1990 to appear in a movie called Lost in the Barrens. He and his wrangler charged $50,000 per day; I don’t think he charged a per diem because he brought his own luxury lodging and was probably on a special Hollywood diet.
It was a pretty cold winter day when Bart was called upon to do his bit. Like a typical star, he was reluctant to come out of his trailer. Too much of the LA lifestyle, I guess. Too much coddling. When they finally convinced him to come out (with what? Pina Coladas? Starlet bears? Salmon mousse?), he put one foot on the cold, cold ground and beat a hasty retreat back into his quarters. What a sad sight to see: a wuss grizzly bear! The very antithesis of grizzlyness. But a good method actor.
To see any wild animal change its nature because of contact with humans is always a bit disappointing to me. It was thrilling to see lions and leopards and cheetahs in Kenya, but the thrill was somewhat diminished by the fact that they were so habituated to Land Rovers full of camera-toting tourists (including me) that they barely batted a feline eyelash.
Out west of here in Alberta and British Columbia they’re really concerned about the Grizzly Bears. A recent report indicated that 63 grizzlies, mainly females, have been killed over the last 18 years or so because of “interaction with humans”. The main cause is the railroad. Train versus bear, even a bear as big as an SUV, is clearly no contest.
So the Canadian Pacific Railway is spending $20 million to keep from killing bears. And various governments are probably spending as much or more.
Not included in the study’s “human-caused mortality” of the bears was Grizzly Bear hunting. Now, I’m not anti-hunting and I’m all in favor of preserving as many Grizzlies as we can, but it seems to me that there’s a contradiction here somewhere.

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